Now’s the time to prep vehicles for summer road trips

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According to the American Automobile Association, an estimated 34.8 million Americans hit the road on the Memorial Day weekend, traveling 50 miles or more from home. With summer time and more family vacations just around the corner, keeping your car in the best shape for those long road trips is on the mind of many.

“With the dog days of summer upon us, high temperatures can take their toll on people, animals and even cars,” said Don Redmond with AAA’s New Orleans office said in a printed statement. “Extreme heat can push a vehicle past its limits and leave motorists stranded at the roadside.”

Even with the fluctuations in gas prices in the past year, AAA’s travel estimate is 1.2 percent – or 500,000 travelers – higher than last year’s number of Memorial Day travelers.

AAA pinpointed five preventive general maintenance items– batteries, engine coolant, tires, fluid and air conditioning – that can keep a vehicle on the road to running great for more summer vacations to come, and there are more than 50 car repair shops in Houma alone.

“Heat can zap the life from batteries,” Redmond said. “Most drivers think battery problems occur primarily in winter, but summer heat can negatively impact your car’s battery even more than the bitter cold of winter. Heat and vibration are a battery’s two worst enemies, leading to internal breakdown and eventual failure.”

Even though there’s not much drivers in south Louisiana can do about the heat, making sure that a vehicle’s battery is secure in its housing can minimize vibration. When it comes to soaring temperatures, heat evaporates battery fluid, harming internal plates and speeding up corrosion. Plugging in satellite radios, GPS systems or portable DVD players also help to drain the life out of your battery.

“If a car’s battery is more than three years old, it’s a good idea to have it tested by a trained technician to determine how much longer it will last,” said Jon Klisart, AAA-Louisiana Service Specialist said in a printed statement. “Sometimes called a ‘load test,’ it can be performed at any AAA Approved Auto Repair facility or by your trusted auto technician.”

Also fighting the summertime temperatures is your car’s cooling system, which is not only battling the heat for itself, but is working to make sure the engine stays cool as well. By making sure a car has engine coolant, drivers are also protecting the automobile’s radiator and internal engine components against wear and corrosion.

“Over time, engine coolant becomes contaminated and its protective additives are depleted,” explains Klisrat. “That’s why the system should be flushed and the coolant replaced periodically as recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.”

Car owners should refer to their owner’s manual or maintenance booklet to find out when to flush their coolant and make sure the coolant is filled to the proper levels by checking the overflow reservoir in between flushes. Other fluids that need to be monitored are motor oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid and brake fluid.

And from fluids to rubber hoses, rubber belts and rubber tires, drivers should also keep a close eye on these items, which are susceptible to deterioration from extreme heat.

“Driving on under-inflated tires not only affects the handling and braking of a vehicle, it also can cause tires to overheat and increase the likelihood of a blowout,” Redmond said. “This problem becomes even more of a concern when road temperatures are extremely high.”

Drivers can find their vehicle’s recommended tire pressure in their owner’s manual or on a sticker normally located on the driver’s doorjamb, and when toping off tires, should also check the vehicle’s spare.

Last but not least and on the mind anyone who will be traveling, to, through or from Louisiana is the good ole air conditioner, the item that keeps road trippers from being drenched in sweat in the humid summer months.

“If a car’s air conditioning is not maintaining the interior temperature as well as it did in the past, it may mean the refrigerant level is low or there is another problem,” Redmond said.

For air conditioning issues, vehicle owner should visit a car repair shop.

Here in Houma, Casey Cooper, a service advisor at Barker Honda, is making sure the dealership’s service customers are staying on top of their car maintenance.

“We have a computer program that alerts us when people need to come in for vehicle service, and we send out postcards and fliers to customers letting them know they are due for services,” Cooper said. “Lots of people think services at a dealership are expensive, but we are very competitive with our prices. We can also do general maintenance on almost any car.”

According to Cooper, service business at the dealership picks up as the temperatures heat up. “Routine maintenance like oil changes, oil filter changes, air conditioner filters, new tires and tire rotations,” he said. “We’ve had a big run on new tires lately. People are driving these long SUVs out on the highways for stretches and not carrying anything in the back. This causes uneven tire wear, and these drivers are having to buy new tires more often.”

Cooper recommended that car owners bring their vehicles in for a tire rotation every three to six months or every 3,000 to 5000 miles. Cooper added that keeping a vehicle’s tires properly inflated would help with the fuel economy of the automobile.

“We service about 250 cars a week, at least 50 a day,” Cooper said. “We were averaging about 65 a day before 2008, but then the recession hit. Now we are making more repairs to older cars. People are keeping them longer rather than trading them in for newer or brand new ones.”

February is also a busy month for car repair services, but it’s got nothing to do with the temperatures.

“People are coming in with money from their income tax returns to make repairs to their vehicles,” Cooper said. “We actually had a record breaking February this year.”

As far as keeping safe during the summer temperature, AAA suggests that drivers keep an emergency kit, stocked with water, non-perishable food items, jumper cables, a flashlight with extra batteries, road flares or an emergency beacon, basic hand tools, and a first aid kit, in their vehicle.

Nolan Allen III, a service technician at Barker Honda in Houma, conducts a used car inspection. Allen, of Houma, has worked at the dealership for more than 12 years.